Outside of Japan, when most people hear the word “sushi” they think of raw fish. However fish is only one of any number of possible toppings for sushi, which actually refers to vinegared rice.
This Japanese recipe contains no raw fish, though in Kanto (the Eastern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan) raw fish is a popular chirashizushi topping. In Kansai (the Western part of Honshu) this dish is also known as barazushi (also meaning scattered sushi) or gomokuzushi (five-ingredient sushi – though it doesn’t have to be exactly five!). Another version is mazezushi – exactly the same dish in fact, except that the toppings are mixed in with the rice instead of just sitting on the top. But no need to be too technical – our version is both mixed and scattered!
Japanese dishes are usually served individually, as opposed to everyone serving themselves from a communal dish in the center of the table – this, along with nabe, is one of the few exceptions!
Chirashizushi is often served for special occasions, but especially for Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival, or Girl’s Day) on March 3rd. On this day, families pray for their daughters’ health, happiness and success. They display special hina dolls, which were thought to take on misfortune or bad spirits instead of the girls who owned them. The hina dolls often depict a marriage procession, as marriage was traditionally considered the highest source of fulfilment for girls. The dolls are put on display from early February, but it’s considered bad luck to leave them out past March 3rd – that family’s daughter might end up an old maid!
Other marriage symbols are included in the food, notably clams, the shells of which represent a perfectly joined couple. Ushiojiru is a thin hamaguri clam soup, and hamaguri zushi is sushi rice wrapped in an egg crepe which is folded to look like a clam. Both are popular dishes served for Hina Matsuri.
For most people nowadays, marriage is not considered the only route to a girl’s future happiness, but Hina Matsuri and its traditions are still widely cherished in Japan. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate women and girls, and wish them happiness and success in life!
- Cut off the stems of the dried shiitake, as they’re too tough and stringy to eat. Put the shiitake in a bowl of water to soak for about 30 minutes, then drain, reserving the liquid, and thinly slice.Peel and finely julienne the carrot into 3-4 cm long pieces.Pour hot water over the fried tofu to remove the excess oil, then finely julienne.Peel the lotus root, slice and cut into eighths. Put into a bowl of vinegar water to soak for a few minutes. This prevents the lotus root from darkening and getting sticky.Remove the string from the snow peas. Bring a small pot of water to the boil, add some salt and the snow peas. Boil for 1 minute, then drain and thinly julienne into diagonal slices.Cut the nori into thin short strips.
- Put the seasoning ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Then add the shiitake, carrot, tofu and lotus root, cover and simmer over low heat until the lotus root becomes translucent and the vegetables are cooked (about 5 minutes). Drain.
- Add the vegetables to the prepared sushi rice and gently mix (the same way you mixed in the vinegar to make the sushi rice), taking care not to squash the rice grains together.
- Put the sushi rice in a large dish and sprinkle with the kinshi tamago, snow peas and nori. Serve immediately, and enjoy!(If you don’t use all of it immediately, set aside and cover the extra rice with a damp cloth. Do not refrigerate, as this will dry it out!)